- Munroe island once again
- John Daniel Munro and the history of Munroe Island, Kollam, Kerala
“kollam Kandal Illam Venda” – It is an old saying that once someone visits Kollam, he prefers to abandon his own place to settle down there. Kollam, and Munroe island in particular, is again in our itinerary in this second trip to Kerala. It is not to endorse the above belief. I am back to Kollam as I want Tanmay, my younger kid, to enjoy the idyllic settings of the quaint water-alleys of this island. I want Rachit, the elder one, to refresh the fading memories of this beautiful place that we visited when he was only three years old. And on my part, I want to meet Sujith, the DTPC guide, again.
Mr Joseph, the owner of Ashtamudi Villa Homestay, when learns about our plan, realizes that it would be quite hectic for us after reaching railway station at 12:30 pm to book DTPC trip to the Munroe island, then to reach his homestay and to return back to DTPC by 2:00 pm. He is right. His coming to the railway station to pick us, helps. On the way to the DTPC office, he tries several times to persuade us to take a private tour of the island. Nevertheless, when he comes to know we are taking this tour again also to meet Sujith, he gives up without any grudge. In the DTPC office, I meet some not so warm office bearers. In my opinion, the indifferent attitude of the DTPC officials also helps private tour operators. I doubt, some of them though employed by DTPC, have their commissions from the private operators.
This time we are not the only tourist to take the tour. An Australian couple, both of whom are school teachers, also joins in. The ice with the fellow tourists breaks early and we start chatting like friends. The husband shyly confesses that in DTPC office he thought that I am the driver who would take them to the island. I am having a hearty laugh. People in North India confidently guess that I am from Kerala and there is another acknowledgement of the same from a tourist of a far-off continent. My common man personality is re-validated too.
At the Munroe island, both Sujith and Radhakishan, are waiting. Sujith has already been informed that an old friend is keen to meet him. He has not changed much in these nine years. However, Radhakishan definitely looks older and acquired mature looks. A warm hug, quick remembrances of past incidents and we join them on the boat, rest of catching-up of things will be done during the trip.
A boatman is rowing a catamaran in front of us. He pauses rowing and makes a Tarzan call – ‘Aaeeee, Aaeee’ and rows again. A rowing Tarzan on Munroe island! Does the lack of dense forest canopies bring a change in life-style of the Tarzan too. At a place a door opens, a woman comes out and buys fish from him. Oh! so the rowing Tarzan is a fish vendor.
Its drizzling. We have two umbrellas borrowed from DTPC office. A warning from Radhakishan helps us to close the umbrella just-in-time. We are crossing an over-bridge. Sujith and Radhkishan are smiling after crossing the bridge. They have seen many tourists damaging the umbrellas despite the warnings. It is quite possible that some tourists, hypnotized by their surroundings, get hit as well.
At the time of last trip, I was not aware why this island is known as the Munroe island. The desire to know about the association of the name Munroe with this island helps me to learn about the Travancore of Nineteenth century. I will share my learnings about those times and Mr Munroe in my next post. I keep this article limited to my second time experience of this wonderful place.
There are netted ponds along the route. These ponds are fish and prawn farms. The nets over them are the scare-crows of these aquatic farms.
On the bank we notice several newly built bungalows. While looking at them, Sujith speaks, “These bungalows are built by the rich man of the region who are working in Gulf-countries. All these bungalows are either locked after construction or looked after by caretakers. Once in couple of years owners return to live here for several days”.
He suddenly becomes philosophical and quizzes, “Such big bungalows to spend only these many days!” His dream is to construct a house probably the size of a room of those bungalows.
He then laughs at the never-ending desires in us for money and the dreams of a quaint life that remains distant.
Sujith still looks handsome and has a personality of a star playing the role of a care-free youth.
I tell him again, “Sujith, you still remind me of young Kamalhassan”.
He smiles and counterquestions, ‘Have you seen Prithviraj, the accomplished actor of South Indian cinema?
I reply negatively and accepts my ignorance about him.
“People say I look more like him”.
Keeping the upper hand in the discussion, I add, “It confirms you have a star personality”.
Radhakishan, the boatman, has a much better vocabulary now. He is conversing freely in English and Hindi. The time induced maturity is visible on his face and mannerism. In the last visit, his only familiarity with Hindi was the colorful Hindi songs. Which ones? The most decent was “हम-तुम एक कमरे में बंद हो और चाबी खो जाए”.
We are crossing the kalluvilla temple, one of the two temples of the island. This temple is dedicated to Lord Krishna.
The ongoing discussions with Sujith make me realize that the carefree young man is now a father of two girls and is bothered about their future and the dowry. Surprisingly, this social ill of society is secular and it affects all Indians, the Hindus, the Muslims and the Christians. I smile, listening to his worries. The love for male child has created such an imbalance that the future belongs to the girl child. They would be the chooser in the new era. Chinese are already facing the music. And we Indians are never much behind them.
Jaishree and Sujith are discussing how deep-rooted is the dowry system in North-India vs South India. I am not interested in the discussion. The serenity of the surroundings has started sinking in me. I sit there mesmerized. I am holding a camera and my fingers keep on clicking pictures.
“Manish, this is our second trip. You have already clicked many pictures. Don’t forget its me who has to cleanup the digital garbage you produce in the name of memories”, came a terse reminder from Jaishree.
I find this urge to capture everything unstoppable. The camera has its limitations. It cannot capture the scenery my eyes are relishing, the smell of greenery, the sound of quietness, in-fact my complete emotional fulfillment.
A boat of private tour operators is moving in front. A young girl is singing. This place has a magical effect that make everyone forego their inhibitions and let them indulge in their favourite pass-time.
it is the time for a coconut break. A lady hands us the coconut. I am missing the last time experience of freshly cut coconuts. The coconut water too is not that sweet.
Jaishree use the time to share her surprise at the costly coconut water in Kerala. In-fact it is not only as costly as it is in Delhi, but most of the time it is not readily available as well. She is concerned as she is not able to keep her promise of ample coconut water to the young boy; coconut water is Tanmay’s favourite.
Sujith reasons, “In Kerala coconut is exhaustively used. Coconut tree is known as the ‘Kalp-Vriksham’. Coconut is a staple ingredient of many dishes and its paste is a must for preparing many curries. Coconut oil is widely consumed in food and as the hair-oil. It is also used for preparing coconut-toddy and appam. Its leaves are used for making sheds, baskets and the door-mats. The husk is used as choir and the shell is used for making ladles and the spoon. Probably, it is due to this wide usage of coconut in a Keralite household that you find it so less-readily available”.
A strong argument indeed.
I wonder do they have a Malayalam equivalent of “आम तो आम, गुठलियो के भी दाम” for coconuts.
A domestic duck and its ducklings are filling the silence with their ‘quack quack’. Ducklings are dutifully following their mother. Are they all the obedient ones? Or, may be I am misled by their innocent looks. It Reminds me of Huey, Dewey, and Louie the cute-little nephews of Donald Duck.
Occasionally, we see a Cormorant drying itself after a soulful dive, a brown-breasted Kingfisher keeping keen eyes over the water, and the majestic Brahminy kite donning the broad coconut leaves.
At a foot-bridge, instead of ducking, Sujith jumps on to it and jumps back in the boat as we cross the bridge. Tanmay is impressed by the stunt and wants to do the same. Sujith points to another bridge and assures him that he can repeat the stunt there. I am concerned and thrilled at the same time.
Sujith winks and soon I realize the reason. We are at the end and will not be crossing that bridge. The end! So soon. ‘The end’ is always a dreaded word in Munroe island. I have not yet completely soaked myself in the beauty of this serene island. I do not know how many times, I will have the same feelings and I will complain about the same.